Bill Humphreys directs Just Say Love, a stage to screen adaptation following the relationship that unfolds between two men who first meet at a park bench.
We caught up with Bill Humphreys to find out more.
Tell us a little about your new film, Just Say Love.
Well, I could simply tell you that it’s an amazing film that is way beyond its time, but you’d probably lose readers if that were a lead line. I’ll say that Just Say love was the creation of David J. Mauriello who wrote the piece for live theatre.
It’s the story of bringing love from its base essence of lust to a fulfilling and everlasting relationship. It’s a how-to manual about successfully achieving everlasting love.
The film’s based on a stage play – what made you decide to turn it into a movie?
David Mauriello and I were having lunch one day and found ourselves complaining to each other about how the number of well written plays are often lost to the world because they have such limited runs in small theatres that the populace loses out on being exposed to them.
Our question was, ‘How do we capture the magic of live theatre, put it on screen and preserve the ‘play’ for future generations, as well as offering it exposure to a vastly wider audience?’ We wanted to find a way to preserve new material that might very well be lost to the wind and never see the light of day. So we invented StageWright Films with this notion as our mission. We needed a first project and David’s story was a perfect fit.
What qualities did it have that you thought would work particularly well on screen?
Just Say Love offers an ongoing development of character – sometimes the subtlety of those points of development are conveyed to the audience with more power in a close-up than from the stage.
We discovered that the delicate nature of these two guys’ relationship as it emerges lent itself to the lens very nicely. Seeing as how both of the actors are very easy on the eye, we won by capturing their emotions in an extremely honest and detailed way.
By their nature stage plays can be rather static. How did you overcome these obstacles for Just Say Love?
Static? Well, I think that stage plays rule, so maybe it’s everyman for himself on this question. I’ve seen many films where I couldn’t push the stop button fast enough, yet when I watch a play, my peripheral vision vanishes and the setting on the stage takes over just like a film in the forefront of your mind. This was what made the vision of JSL come to life through the lens.
I know this is getting pretty headsy, so I’ll just say that I don’t think we looked at it as ‘overcoming’ obstacles in the translation from stage to screen. We just tried to put the viewer inside the play visually, as if an audience member could get up out of their seat and walk freely around the set while the actors were performing. Hope that makes sense.
“It’s not about coming out, it’s about finding real love.”
Tell us a little about the characters in the film, what are the main concerns in their lives?
Guy is the type of guy that has a clear-cut knowledge of who he is. His curiosity, his ability to express himself through philosophy and art, his sexuality and his desire for that which will make a healthy and supportive relationship. His concern is finding that soul mate in the midst of one-night stands.
Doug is the floundering, uncertain member of the story. In essence, he is the ‘everyman’ of JSL – he represents all of humanity that isn’t able to break through to the acceptance of their own sexuality. His concern is realising who he really is and bringing that to light and life.
What, you mean it’s not just sex?!
Bingo! And yet it is about the mind, the heart and the spirit, which together make up the most powerful and the most important sex organ in the body. The mind takes the heart on a spiritual journey which can manifest itself in physical expression, yet the emotional and mystical expression is as strong, if not stronger.
If you had to date one of them, who would you pick and why?
Interesting question. I couldn’t pick one over the other - I don’t think they both have so much to offer. Besides, if I did, my wife would probably be pretty upset.
You also act in the film as Guy’s father. Did your actor head ever disagree with the director inside you?
I wish I’d cast myself 20 pounds thinner.
Can you tell me how you found your leads? Did you have them in mind from the beginning or did they stand out during the audition process?
We held auditions on both the east and west coasts. Both Robert Mamanna and Matthew Jaeger auditioned for us in Los Angeles. The interesting part is that they didn’t audition together. We saw Matthew in the mid-afternoon and Robert in the early evening.
We knew they were each right for the individual roles and since in the story they meet in a park – unknown to each other – it seemed appropriate that we cast them separately and allow that ‘never-having-met-before’ magic take place on camera. Needless to say, it worked.
“We wanted to be true to the author’s words, true to the art and craft of acting and performance, and true to the intelligence level of the audience.”
What makes Just Say Love different from other coming of age or coming out stories?
Actually, I wouldn’t even place JSL in a ‘coming of age’ or ‘coming out’ genre. I’d place it in a coming to awareness or following your heat genre. It’s not about coming out, it’s about finding real love.
So what message would you like to get across to the audience?
The message is really to listen to your heart. Let your soul lead you and know that all love does not have to be physical. A spiritual love can be the most embracing love of all.
The film has a very refreshing look. How did you decide on the visual style?
David and I talked a lot about how to bring live theatre to the screen. We wanted to be true to the author’s words, true to the art and craft of acting and performance, and true to the intelligence level of the audience.
So many films today ignore the intelligence of the audience, spelling so much out for the viewer that you almost feel insulted. We wanted the audience to focus on what was being said, hear the words as they were intended to be heard and not be covered up by exposition. The result was staging the play in a huge Black-box theatre (a soundstage) and then imposing the camera into that realm. The visual style grew out of our belief in those three elements – author’s words, performance and audience.
Is there one moment in the film that just says, ‘That’s brilliant filmmaking’, if you do say so yourself?
Well actually, my suggestion is that you should never ask an actor or a director how brilliant they are because they are likely to tell you and it may take days – so I’ll try to be concise. If I had to pick one moment that was brilliant, I’d have to say Guy’s emotional breakdown and the transition into the love scene.
To me, that pulls all of the elements of the stage and cinematic art forms together. When it’s complete, the transition into the following scene – the ‘realisation’, as I’ll call it, simply pulls you into the separate worlds of Doug and Guy and lets the viewer feel their personal acceptance for who they are and how they got there. I love those moments – if I do say so myself.
And anything that looking back on you’d do differently?
A director is never usually satisfied with the final product. There is always something that needs tweaking, something that could have been better. We were very lucky to have the crew and cast that we did. They were professionals all ‘round – willing to experiment, try, change and sculpt the material.
If I had to do something differently, I’d have not painted the lamp post black nor the chain stanchions behind the park bench. Because we used a limbo background, those set elements faded away into oblivion. Little things like that – the details that bug me now when I watch the picture. Picky things.
“I think that it’s not so much ‘gay’ filmmaking as it is that mainstream filmmaking has begun to accept the fact that it doesn’t matter what gender is up there on the screen – what matters is that the story is honest.”
The relationship between the two men starts as sexual and non-romantic. Does sex always come first?
I think attraction comes first, then experimentation, which leads to confirmation of the attraction. But it all stems from psychological need - there’s that sex organ the brain again. In short, I think that romance grows out of that first attraction - you gotta start somewhere. The brain convinces you that you need this, so you act on that. When it’s right, that attraction pays off in spades.
So what’s more important to you – sex or love?
Both together working in tandem. That makes it all pay off. The physical need can be satisfied in many other ways, but when that need is satisfied through love – bing!
Have you ever told anyone you love them? If so, did you just say love?
I’ve said love many times – when I do, I always mean it. Yet it comes in so many different forms and not all are sensual. But I love people – young, old, male, female - and I’ve let them know. My spiritual love I share with my family, but my heartfelt love goes to many, many others. So yes, to just say love is a part of my make-up, but I use it cautiously because it needs to be real.
Can you remember your first date – where did you go, have you kept in contact and did you kiss on your first date?!
My first date. Wow, 7th grade, I think. Went to the movies – my father drove – and yes, if you consider a peck on the cheek a kiss. That darn porch light, though.
With A Single Man, Brokeback Mountain and Howl, gay cinema seems to be moving more mainstream. Has gay filmmaking become fashionable?
I don’t think ‘fashionable’ is the right word – I think honest and permissible. Brokeback Mountain is a great example of a male/male love story that is exceptionally honest. That love grew out of attraction which was, due to their location and societal position, a banned love. But they were strong enough to accept what was happening to them and follow their psychological need to express it to each other. It was honest.
I think that it’s not so much ‘gay’ filmmaking as it is that mainstream filmmaking has begun to accept the fact that it doesn’t matter what gender is up there on the screen – what matters is that the story is honest.
So what do you think of the state of gay cinema at the moment?
I have to say that I wish gay cinema would focus more on the story and, as I said before, allow it not to matter the mixture of gender, but rather the truth and honesty of the relationship. There will always be a need/market for film that involves same sex in a tawdry situation – and so be it. But deep inside the most tawdry, gay individual lies someone who would give his or her heart to a soul mate. That’s where I’d like to see the gay cinema industry head.
What are your favourite gay-themed films?
What, you expect me to say something other than Just Say Love? Okay. Tongues Untied and A Very Long Engagement.Okay, these are both documentaries, but boy do they express the trials and tribulations. These are films for the thinking person.
Who’s an actor you’d kill to work with?
Kill? Well, maybe run over someone, but I’d love to work with Glenn Close and/or Geoffrey Rush.
What would you list as your main influences?
A lot of obscure names – Edmund Penney, Trevor Howard, Charles Laughton, Lars Von Trier, Stanley Kubrick. Okay, so he’s not so obscure – neither is Trevor Howard or Laughton - but boy did these guys know their stuff. Also Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon.
What’s in your closet?
A bunch of stuff I never wear - things too small that I always say I’ll keep so I can lose weight and wear them when I’m thinner. I’ve been holding on to them for 40 years. Someday, someday.
What cliché most applies to your life?
If ya can’t fix it with bailing wire and duck tape, it’s broke.
And finally, what’s next for Bill Humphreys?
Stagewright Films is in pre-production for our next project. I can’t reveal much more right now, but we’re working on some very exciting things. All of that and finding a new acting gig. If anyone needs an actor that sounds like me, just drop a note anytime - www.bbtfilms.com/bill. Pardon the blatant self promotion.